Sterilisation 'a step too far'

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 16:11 06/06/2012

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The Government is considering strengthening measures to remove babies of parents who abuse or neglect their children, but is stopping short of forced sterilisation or contraception.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said today that babies of 148 parents had been removed within 30 days of them being born in 2011.

In 2010, about 177 babies were removed.

The court-ordered removals were because authorities feared for the safety of the babies; most had siblings who had been abused or neglected, or parents who suffered mental illness.

Under changes being considered, parents would be warned during court sentencing that they faced having subsequent children taken off them, potentially permanently.

Prime Minister John Key said New Zealanders should prepare for an at times uncomfortable conversation about child abuse following a case involving a mother smothering her baby after rolling over her while drunk.

A government had a White Paper on vulnerable children in progress and would spark that conversation.

"That conversation has to happen."

"The government already takes 148 babies a year at the delivery suite off mothers that we don't think are fit to continue to look after their children…and are demonstrated unfit to do so......that’s a big call for the government at any time."

The conversation that now needed to take place was whethe authorities should "push a little harder on that policy".

He rejected suggestions of compulsory sterilisation for bad parents and thought that would make most people uneasy.

"[But] there is a very strong case to say some people are not fit to raise children."

Bennett said ministers were also looking at sanctions such as preventing the parent from living or working with children.

"At the moment you could live with or have future children and it would be taken on its merits at that point.

"We don't even do that with dogs that have been abused - there can be a sanction that you cannot own a dog for two or five years (but) we don't do that with children."

Bennett said the process of develooping the white paper gave the Government the opportunity to make changes.

However, sterilisation was "a step too far" and ministers were also not looking at stopping people have further children.

Final decisions, including the threshold measures would kick in at, had not been made, she said.

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